Basic Medical Terminology: 100 Medical Phrases To Know

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 24, 2022

Published June 1, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A health care professional sits on a stool while talking to a young patient sitting on a medical exam table as an adult looks on. The professional in light green scrubs has a stethoscope and a medical file.

Every profession has its own set of acronyms, terminology and special vocabulary, including the medical profession. Anyone entering medicine may want to become familiar with basic medical terminology. Even if you're not interested in a medical career, these terms can be useful to know when speaking with your health care and insurance providers.

In this article, we examine why it's important to know medical terminology and list by category over 100 of the most useful medical terms to know.

Related: The Top 9 Medical Certifications You Need and Why

Why is it important to know medical terminology?

There are several reasons why it might be important for you to know medical terminology. Some of these include:

Working or applying to work in the medical field

You might not be a practicing doctor or nurse but, instead, might be working or looking to work in a medical environment, perhaps in a hospital's technology department, as an assistant in a clinic or as a medical transcriber. Knowledge of medical terminology could be useful when communicating with the medical staff around you or understanding aspects of patient care relevant to your job.

Studying for some form of medical certification or degree

You may be planning to take certification exams to advance your career or engage in a course of study to enter the medical profession. If so, you more than likely need to learn medical terminology to succeed.

Understanding your medical benefits

If your workplace offers medical benefits, you might receive documentation with those benefits detailing the various medical services and conditions that your provider covers. Knowing medical terminology can be helpful to you as you read the documentation and interact with your provider about your healthcare.

Related: How To Get a Medical Coding Job From Home With No Experience

Basic medical terminology

The following is a list of over 100 basic medical terms grouped into categories to help you find the term you need:

Abbreviations and acronyms

This list contains some common medical abbreviations and acronyms:

  • AC: Ante cibum, or "before meals," indicating when a patient should take medication

  • ADR: Adverse drug reaction

  • ALOC: Acute loss of consciousness

  • BMI: Body mass index, a measurement of body fat based on height and weight

  • BP: Blood pressure, a measurement of the pressure exerted by the flow of blood upon vessel walls. This measurement is expressed using two numbers, the systolic, or highest pressure and the diastolic, or lowest pressure.

  • CHF: Congestive heart failure

  • DNR: Do not resuscitate, an indication that the patient does not want CPR or other life-saving procedures performed on them

  • ECG or EKG: Electrocardiogram, a device that records heartbeats

  • EMS: Emergency medical services

  • FX: Fracture

  • HR: Heart rate, the number of times a person's heart beats, usually measured per minute

  • LFT: Liver function test

  • MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging, diagnostic imaging that uses magnetism and radio waves to produce images of internal organs

  • PT: Physical therapy

  • Rx: Prescription

  • UTI: Urinary tract infection

Related: Learn About Being a Medical Transcriber

Diseases and conditions

These are some common terms for diseases and conditions:

  • Acute: A condition that is often severe but starts and ends quickly

  • Angina: Intermittent chest pain normally caused by insufficient blood flow to the heart

  • Benign: Refers to a tumor that is neither cancerous nor malignant

  • Chronic: Describes a condition that is persistent or recurring

  • Edema: Swelling as a result of fluid retention or buildup

  • Embolism: A clot caused by blood, fat, air or other types of fluid, gas or foreign material

  • Fracture: A cracked or broken bone

  • Hypertension: Unusually high blood pressure

  • Hypotension: Unusually low blood pressure

  • Intravenous: Administration of medication or fluids by vein

  • Lesion: Damage or change to tissue, such as a cut, a wound or a sore

  • Malignant: Refers to the presence of cancerous cells in a tumor or growth

  • Myocardial infarction: Also known as a heart attack, where the heart is deprived of blood due to arterial blockage

  • Remission: Describes a disease that is not getting worse

  • Sepsis: An imbalance in the body's response to infection that injures the body's tissues and organs

  • Thrombosis: A blood clot that forms inside a blood vessel restricting blood flow

Medical slang

This is a list of some informal terms often used by medical professionals:

  • Afib: Atrial fibrillation, irregular and rapid heartbeats

  • Bagging: Helping a patient breathe using a squeeze bag attached to a face mask

  • C-section: Caesarian section, where a baby is delivered through an abdominal and uterine incision

  • Detox: Detoxification, the removal of toxins from the body, such as drugs or alcohol

  • Exam: Examination

  • Foley: A catheter inserted into the bladder to help with urinary drainage

  • GCS: Glascow Coma Scale, level of consciousness

  • Labs: Laboratory work or tests

  • MVA: Motor vehicle accident

  • Nitro: Nitroglycerin

  • O sign: A patient who is unconscious and open-mouthed

  • OD'd: Overdosed

  • Script: Prescription

  • Stat: Immediately

  • Thready: Shallow and weak, particularly in reference to a person's pulse

  • Tox screen: A blood test to determine the type and quantity of drugs in the system

Prefixes and suffixes

You can often determine what a medical term means if you understand some basic prefixes and suffixes, such as:

  • A- or an-: Lacking or without

  • Ab-: Away from

  • -algia: Indicates pain or a painful condition

  • Cardio-: Related to the heart

  • Ecto- or exo-: Outside of

  • -ectomy: Removal through surgery

  • Hyper-: Above, beyond or in excess

  • -itis: An inflammation

  • -mortem: Relating to death

  • -plasty: Repair through surgery

  • Post-: After or behind

  • -rrhea: A discharge or a flow

  • -somnia: Related to sleep

  • Trans-: Across or through

  • -trophic: Relating to nutrition

  • Vas(o)-: Relating to a vessel

Procedures and tests

Here are some common medical procedures and tests:

  • Appendectomy: Surgical procedure to remove the appendix

  • Biopsy: Removal of a small tissue sample for testing

  • Blood culture: Test to reveal the existence of fungi or bacteria in the blood, possibly indicating an infection

  • Blood swab: Taking a blood sample using a cotton-tipped stick

  • Coronary bypass: Surgical transplant of a healthy blood vessel into the heart to bypass or replace an unhealthy vessel

  • Dialysis: Process to filter the blood, usually performed as a result of kidney failure

  • Fusion: Joining together adjacent bones or vertebrae to increase stability

  • Glucose test: A test to discover the quantity of a particular type of sugar in the bloodstream

  • Hysterectomy: Surgical procedure to remove the uterus

  • Intubation: Medical insertion of a tube into the body, for example, into the throat to assist with breathing

  • Lead test: A test to reveal the quantity of lead in the bloodstream

  • Lumbar puncture or spinal tap: Drawing of cerebrospinal fluid from the lumbar region of the back using a hollow needle

  • Mastectomy: Surgical procedure to remove part or all of the breast

  • Occult blood screen: Use of a chemically treated card or pad to test for blood hidden in a stool sample

  • Ultrasound: Imaging produced by high-frequency sound waves, usually used to view internal organs

  • X-ray: Use of high-energy electromagnetic radiation to create images of internal bones and organs

Root words

Many medical terms come from Greek or Latin root words. Knowing some of these may help you determine the meaning of a term:

  • Aqua-: Pertaining to water

  • Asphyxia: Choking or loss of consciousness due to oxygen deprivation

  • Carcin(o)-: Related to or causing cancer

  • Cyto-: Pertaining to a cell or cells

  • Derma-: To do with the skin

  • Digit: Either a finger or a toe

  • Encephal(o)-: To do with the brain

  • Gastr(o)-: Related to the stomach

  • Lact-: Pertaining to milk

  • Men-: A month or occurring monthly

  • Nephr(o)-: Related to the kidneys

  • Onc(o)-: To do with tumors or masses, often related to cancer

  • Ov-: Pertaining to eggs

  • Pulmon(o)-: To do with the lungs

  • Stasis: Causing the flow of a fluid, such as blood, to slow or stop

  • Viscous or viscosity: Sticky or thick, thickness

Related: 32 Career Paths in the Medical Field To Explore

Tools and equipment

Here are some common medical tools, devices and appliances:

  • Blood lancet: A double-edged blade or needle used to obtain blood samples

  • Defibrillator: A device that discharges an electric current to the heart to correct cardiac arrhythmia or arrest

  • Dialyser: A machine that replaces the function of the kidneys by removing solutes, excess water and toxins from the blood

  • Endoscope: An optical instrument containing a tube with a lighted end used for internal examinations

  • Forceps: A hinged instrument, like scissors, used to grasp and hold objects

  • Hypodermic needle: A very thin, hollow needle used with a syringe to inject substances into the body or to extract blood

  • Nebulizer: A device used to deliver medication in an aerosol form through inhalation

  • Ophthalmoscope: An instrument used to examine the eye's fundus, retina and other structures

  • Otoscope or auriscope: A device for examining the external ear cavity

  • Pulse oximeter: A small device that clips to the finger, toe or earlobe used to measure blood oxygen saturation

  • Reflex hammer: A specially designed hammer used to test deep tendon or motor reflexes

  • Speculum: An instrument used when examining body orifices to help widen the opening

  • Spirometer: A device that measures the amount of air breathed in and out by the lungs

  • Splint: A tool for immobilizing and protecting displaced or injured body parts such as broken bones or dislocated joints

  • Stethoscope: A device for listening to the heartbeat or breathing

  • Ventilator: A machine that provides mechanical assistance with breathing

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